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Aston Martin unveils new 550-horsepower Rapide S

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Aston Martin's largest child got a bit more go Tuesday, as the company announced the arrival of the Rapide S. The car joins the new Vanquish, the revised DB9, and the Vantage in celebrating Aston's 100th birthday in 2013.

The four-door, four-seat sedan/coupe Rapide S replaces the slower Rapide that has been in production since early 2010. The rear-wheel-drive S retains the earlier model's 6.0-liter V-12, but horsepower jumps from 470 to 550 and torque rises from 443 to 457.

Careful observers will note that the closest competitor to this Aston is Porsche's Panamera Turbo S, and the uptick in the horsepower of the Rapide S matches exactly the output of the Porsche.

Photos: Aston Martin Rapide S

Unfortunately, the acceleration isn't able to keep up. Aston Martin says this boost in power drops the Rapide S's zero-60 mph time from 5.1 seconds to 4.7 seconds. A worthwhile move in the right direction, to be sure, but still behind the 3.6 seconds the Panamera Turbo S needs to hit the same speed.

In addition to the new-found power, Aston Martin says the engine in the Rapide S also has more low-end torque and sits 0.8 inches lower in the car. The transmission is still a six-speed automatic gearbox, with paddle shifters and a limited-slip differential.

The Rapide S grabs the adaptive suspension system from the latest DB9 and Vanquish cars, which gives drivers the choice of Normal, Sport, and Track modes.

Aesthetically, the Rapide S moves away from its slower predecessor with subtle yet meaningful changes. The back of the car gets a quiet update to the integrated spoiler at the end of the deck lid.

Meanwhile, the front grille is now a large, one-piece unit extending from the bottom of the new hood down to the bottom of the bumper. Not only does this heighten the aggressive nature of the front end, but Aston Martin says it also brings the Rapide S into compliance with the latest European pedestrian safety regulations.

All this comes at a price -- around $200,000, Aston Martin says. Despite the gains in horsepower and torque and the other upgrades to the Rapide S, it's roughly $10,000 less than the outgoing Rapide. The car will roll onto dealer lots in May or June.

Highway 1 will soon log some seat time in this Rapide S, so stay tuned for driving impressions. In the meantime, it's hard to argue with more power for less money. Happy birthday indeed.

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Photos: Aston Martin Rapide S

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